Nicole Sandler is the Head of Digital Policy at Barclays. She focuses on the impact of FinTech related regulation and initiatives including AI/ML, DLT and Crypto-assets use cases on Barclays in the UK and globally, such as advising on various sandbox and regulatory initiatives proposed by regulators and policymakers including the FCA, BoE, EC, EBA, ESMA, US Fed, CFTC, ASIC, MAS and Japanese FSA.
Nicole Sandler
Nicole Sandler

Nicole engages with regulators, policymakers and standard–setters globally for Barclays including sitting on panels and roundtables with the FCA, BoE, EC, EBA, Bank of Spain, Bundesbank, US Fed, CFTC, Bank of Japan, MAS and FSB.

Nicole regularly speaks on panels and at conferences in the UK and EU on innovation, diversity and leadership and has published articles including ‘The Internet of Things is a Moving Regulatory Landscape’ and the FMLC paper on ‘DLT and governing law’. In addition, she actively helped set up the International Association for Trusted Blockchain Applications (INATBA) and is on their Legal Committee and focuses on diversity initiatives such as being a board member of RegTech Women an initiative she helped set up to promote RegTech and help women network and upskill in this space.

Nicole has been shortlisted for the WIBF Tech Star Award.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for the WIBF Tech Star Award?

I think it is such an honour to even get nominated for awards (especially a WIBF award!) so to be shortlisted when there are so many amazing women in the industry is very humbling and also exciting!

Could you tell us about your career path to date?

After having worked in a law firm for about seven years I moved to Barclays in early 2013 to work on Recovery and Resolution Planning. By the end of that year I was focussing on Regulatory Policy matters. Then 5 years ago my (then) boss, Chris Allen was attending an IOSCO roundtable. One of my tasks was to help him prepare for such events and fortuitously (for me!) Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT)/Blockchain was one of the roundtable topics. I started mapping out what Barclays was doing in this space and who the key stakeholders (both internal and external) were and spent a lot of time upskilling myself by reading articles and watching online seminars. When Chris returned from the event I asked him how it had gone and he said something along the lines of ‘all anyone wanted to talk about in the breaks was Blockchain’ and we agreed I would spend more time focussing on this.

I really haven’t looked back from there and it’s been an organic growth in terms of my career. After that I started attending internal meetings and also external meetings. For instance I started attending the FMLC DLT meetings and from that I met Sian Jones who was a guest speaker who invited me to the first ever roundtable on Blockchain and Crypto-Assets (referred to as Virtual Currencies at the time) at the European Parliament. Then I started getting invited to speak at conferences or on panels and spent more and more time with regulators and policymakers discussing FinTech regulatory initiatives such as the sandbox and technologies such as DLT and AI. It was a journey I started without really contemplating where it would take me, I never thought that I would speak in front of 100’s of people at internal events or conferences in the UK, Europe and US, represent the UK banking industry (as one of only 3 representatives for the banking industry across Europe) at the European Commission’s Regulatory Obstacles to Financial Innovation Expert Group or have articles published. My brother has a travel start up so tech has always interested me, I just never thought that my professional life would go down the tech avenue but from a different angle.

You are involved with the Regulatory Obstacles to Financial Innovation Expert Group (ROFIEG), can you tell us more about that?

The ROFIEG, which was formed in June 2018, was tasked with reviewing the application and suitability of the existing EU legal and regulatory framework when applied to FinTech and providing recommendations via a report for the European Commission (EC). The Group calls on policymakers to act on the potential of FinTech to deliver greater choice and improved efficiencies in the provision of financial products and services and to take steps to ensure that regulation and supervision remains fit for purpose in the digital age. An updated regulatory framework should enable the benefits of FinTech to be leveraged, whilst maintaining high standards of consumer protection, market integrity and the stability of the EU financial system. Delivered well, it should also have the effect of protecting and enhancing the attractiveness of the EU as a global financial centre. I applaud the EC for forming their expert groups as a means for the public and private sector to work closely together and upskill in order to further innovation policy, and as a result the use of technologies for financial service usecases, in Europe (there are also a number of public private working groups that other policymakers have formed including the FCA, BoE and US Fed).

I was fortunate to be successful in my application to the group a couple of years ago and as a result I met some amazing people across the industry (both in the public and private sector), it challenged and consolidated my thinking on key innovation matters, and ultimately I had the opportunity to both shape and input into the report (whilst acknowledging that each recommendations and its background had to be agreed by a majority when there was not a consensus). The report recommends action in four broad areas including (i) Responding to new and changed risks caused by the use of innovative technologies such as AI and distributed ledger technology; (ii) Removing fragmentation across the EU and ensure a level playing field between different participants in the financial services sector as they leverage new technologies; (iii) Reconciling data protection with the opportunities offered by FinTech; and (iv) Considering the potential impact of FinTech on consumers, from the perspective of financial inclusion and the ethical use of data. The recommendations in the report are not specific to any business model or financial service or product and cut across the whole market. The report is helping shape the Digital Finance Strategy in the EU.

I think it is fair to say that the ROFIEG is one of the most interesting and best groups I have had the privilege to participate in!

How do you think AI will impact the banking industry over the next few years?

Technology infuses almost everything we do. The use of data and technologies, such as AI (and also distributed ledger technology (DLT)), can increase competition, improve efficiency and increase client satisfaction (e.g. personalised services). In addition it can assist in areas such as cross-border payments, digital identity, regulatory reporting and fraud prevention. For instance, Juniper Research found that RegTech spend will rise from $10.6 billion in 2017 to $76.3 billion in 2022. Further, analysts suggest that AI will save the banking industry more than $1 trillion by 2030!

The increase in use cases using technologies including AI (and also for example DLT) has led industry and policymakers to question whether the current regulatory frameworks are the right ones. It is also important to remember the unwritten rules (e.g. expectations of users) that exist and the need to not only respond to changes but anticipate them. What type of regulation needed today and for the future is a key focus for policymakers and the industry and this will affect how AI will impact the banking industry over the coming years.

How should organisations best encourage young women into FinTech?

I think the last couple of years have shown us that there is still a long way to go in terms of diversity in all areas and not just FinTech. That said I remember the first ever FinTech conference I spoke at had only 2 female speakers of which I was one of them. I am pleased to say that is slowly changing evidenced by a panel I spoke at in Brussels last year where over half the panellists were female and one in Paris last year where all the panellists were female! That is the exception not the norm though and I believe it is important to speak out when you see a conference or event that is very male dominated. I attended a panel once on bias in AI and the panel consisted of 5 white middle class men and a white middle class male moderator – the irony of a discussion on bias with no diversity represented was not lost on me and I said something to the organisers. It is important to note that I do not believe someone should be chosen to participate as a speaker merely due to eg their gender however I know enough excellent women in FinTech who are just as knowledgeable as some of their male counterparts so I really see no excuse these days for minimal to no diversity. Therefore I continue to politely speak up when I see draft conference agendas which lack diversity, as being silent on the matter will not help facilitate change so it is important to use your voice when you can.

Further, I also think having a line manager that is supportive and understands what you are focused on makes a large difference. I am fortunate to work for Barclays and with managers and colleagues who have very supportive of both my work and my being involved in diversity initiatives.

Lastly, over the past couple of years I have also seen an increase in diversity initiatives in organisations such as women’s networks – Barclays has had a women’s network for a number of years which I think is a wonderful thing and I, along with other colleagues, have promoted women in FinTech within the Bank. This is helping raise awareness and assist the landscape to move and I am always pleased to participate in these initiatives where I can.

What do you enjoy doing when not working?

I love seeing friends, travelling (preferably somewhere sunny!), running and doing or teaching yoga (I got my qualification a couple of years ago which was really enjoyable but also hard work). I also love being in the sea so recently started learning how to kite surf which was really fun! In fact anything that encompasses a few of those things together is a win!